Well we've got 10 (we just realized that we've been counting down til April 5th. Because we're nothing if not attentive.) days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Philadelphia Phillies.
Lineup: The Phillies can hit the ball. That's this lineup summed up very briefly. Chase Utley is one of the best players in baseball, Ryan Howard is the premier power bat in the league, and Jayson Werth has been one of the most productive outfielders in the league in the past few years (no word how his new beard will affect his play). Jimmy Rollins used to be in the this discussion before his abysmal 2009 season, but it's not out of the question to think that he will rebound this year. Shane Victorino has made his case to be included in the group of elite hitters from this lineup, and should continue to improve. Beyond that group, Raul Ibanez is a decent enough hitter for left field, and you could do worse than to have Placido Polanco at third. Carlos Ruiz - CHOOCH! - will be the backstop for this squad, and while he's not much with the bat, he's shown quite a bit of flair with the glove. Basically, this team will get their runs - as long as their key contributors stay healthy. Because like the Yankees, there is not a lot of depth to be had here.
Rotation: They did improve by swapping Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay (ignoring all the other parts of the deal), but we're not so sure how good this group is going to be. Halladay and Hamels are a legitimate star-caliber 1/2, but to say that we have doubts about Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, and Jamie Moyer is to put it lightly. Blanton showed an uptick in his strikeout rate recently, but we're not really buying it as he benefited from luck last season. Speaking of luck, Happ was extraordinarily lucky in 2009, and will be lucky to post a sub-4.50 FIP this season. Kendrick flat out doesn't have the skills to be in an MLB rotation, and Moyer, while he does have that veteran presence journalists love to write about, is in the same boat.
Bullpen: This is something of a weak spot. Brad Lidge - he of the perfect season in 2008 (saves-wise, which take from that what you will) - was historically awful last season, and has a lot to prove in 2010. Ryan Madson was often Lidge's relief (which never bodes well when you're talking about, y'know, a relief corps), but he's not exactly the kind of pitcher you entrust with significant amounts of high leverage appearances. But then the same could be said about Danys Baez, J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, Mike Zagurski, David Herndon and Antonio Bastardo. And in case you're wondering, no, that does not bode well for the Phitins.
Overall: The Phils can hit the cover off the ball, and their 1/2 starters are hard to beat. Beyond that, though, you're talking about a very flawed squad. A lot is going to have to go right for them to be the dominant team that we've seen in recent years, but even without that, they should be talented enough to win the division. If, however, either Halladay or Hamels (and we simply cannot wait for the silly double-H merchandise to be printed up) falters or gets injured, then this team could be in some real trouble.
Predicted Record: 91-71, 1st place NL East
Beer: Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout. A potent lineup, the Phillies are equal to the 9% ABV that we see from (Slammin') Sammy Smith's powerful brew. Plus, Smith's is one of, if not the, best Imperial Stout out there - and the same can be said of the Phillies. It's not an inspired choice, to be sure, but hopefully it's heavy enough to keep Philly fans' mouths shut so they can appreciate - instead of complain about - a great team.